KAYSVILLE — Bright Star is a new musical written by Steve Martin, Edie Brickell. The story follows the lives of two writers as they try to find their way in the world. Billy Cane is returning from war and wants to pursue his dreams far from home, where he enlists the help of Alice Murphy, who’s own story is told mostly through flashbacks to her youth. This tale tells of a search for love and belonging in a way that can only be described as propinquity. This review is based on the opening night performance of the Silver cast at The Hopebox Theatre, directed by Karllen Johnson.
As one enters the small and comfortable space at the Hopebox Theatre, they are immediately greeted by all of the trimmings of a quaint southern town. White picket fences line the back wall, tin roofs lean over the stage, and barrels sit in the background. The dressing of the stage draws in the audience, and gives you something to explore while the pre-show music plays.
The first two performers to come on stage are the live musicians for the show, Dave Hollerback and Lexi Christensen. Their beautiful music and fun asides throughout the show add an element of home and warmth that can’t be replicated by canned audio. As the first number began, there were several moments of technical difficulties, but the live musicians and the actors on stage continued on as if nothing had happened, keeping the magic flowing. The music and choral arrangements throughout this show are complicated and touching, and the ensemble managed to hold their notes and keep the harmonies tight and crisp. This is not only a testament to their own talent and hard work, but also that of the music director Dugan Brunker.
“Bright Star” throws the audience into the story right away, bringing together the entirety of the cast and really showcasing the journey that Billy Cane, played by Gage Reese, is taking in search of his dreams. This is our first real introduction to Reese’s voice and his energy, and both are impressive and fun to watch/hear. The life he breathes into the character is truly that of a young man out to learn about himself and find happiness and belonging.
As Act 1 continues, we are introduced to Jimmy Ray and young Alice Murphy, played by Cameron Ropp and Katelynn Ostler, respectively. As we watch their playful and fun relationship blossom, it evokes images of young puppy love that we all have at least once in our lives. Ropp and Ostler find little moments to share cute exchanges; a smile or a wink, adding to the depth of their personal relationship. The two pair very well together vocally as well, rousing the audience with “Whoa Mama.” Alice’s relationship with her parents is displayed well throughout their time on stage together and sets up the rest of the first act wonderfully.
At risk of giving away spoilers, I will be vague with details of the rest of the show, instead focusing on the acting and the singing, all of which was splendid and made for a fantastic show. Special mention should be made of several moments in the show. “Asheville” is a longing ballad sung by Margo Crawford played by Emily Vorhees. Vorhees has a pure and lovely voice. In this song Margo’s love for Billy is clear, as is her conflicting desire for him to be successful away from her. This was well executed by Vorhees and was brought full circle later in “Always Will’ where her performance was just enhanced by her stage chemistry with Reese.
“I Can’t Wait” introduced some featured ensemble members as “spirits”, which continued through the entirety of the show, and was a well done element. Their time on stage in specific costumes helped the audience to follow their storyline very well. Ropp gives a performance in “Heartbreaker” that is stirring and emotional beyond words. The raw nature of his voice in this song is, for lack of a better word, heartbreaking. “I Had a Vision” gives a chance for both Jimmy Ray and Alice to share their intense emotions together, and Ropp and Ostler bring their voices and acting together in a way that was inspiring. The finale of this show brings together the story in a way that brings you the sense of belonging that has been searched for the entire show, and this cast did an amazing job bringing those stories together.
I had an opportunity to speak with the director after this performance, and I was inspired by her thoughts of connecting and belonging, and how these things can all be found in a community theatre setting. There is safety and love found in community, especially in a place such as The Hopebox. The mission of the Hopebox is to fight cancer through theatre, and they do it in such a community fashioned way that it brings people from all over just to support the mission. This show is dedicated to J. Meier and his family, and I truly hope they find some help and comfort from the love sent from these performers and audience.